The Last Five Years – Review

The Last Five Years: Southwark Playhouse

4th March 2020

★★★★

This rollercoaster musical by Jason Robert Brown about two New Yorkers who fall in and out of love over five years is reimagined in its latest production at the Southwark Playhouse. Including actor-musicians to bring to life the two characters, Jamie and Cathy, this production of the well-loved musical aims to be even more intimate and emotional than before.

With an unconventional structure The Last Five Years is usually told by just one character onstage at a time with the characters meeting just once in the centre. In a bold move this production directed by Jonathon O’Boyle, not only features actor-musicians but also has both characters onstage throughout. Having both characters in each scene works really well for the majority of the songs. The subtle looks, lingering gazes and little moments of intimacy between the couple adds another layer of meaning and understanding to what can be a complicated show for new audience members.

The score by Jason Robert Brown is exquisite. The attention to detail and way in which the songs interconnect ensures that despite the characters lives literally going in different directions the audience is able to relate to the characters and understand them. It is a show which is best on the second or even third visit/listen as it is then when you can really appreciate the intricacies that Jason Robert Brown manages to weave into the score. The choice to have the characters play the piano, a central theme throughout this production with the piano taking up much of the intimate stage, is a nice touch but doesn’t necessarily add anything to the piece. Whilst played brilliantly, it feels more of a set piece than adding anything musically to the score.

Molly Lynch plays a young Cathy full of energy extremely well and earns a huge applause for ‘I Can Do Better Than That’. Her powerful voice is used well throughout the performance and the control she has is excellent. She portrays Cathy’s anguish subtly, as though worn down by the last five years and the relationship with Jamie and this is a stark contrast to the bouncy, fun feeling to her character during the start of their relationship.

Oli Higginson is enigmatic as Jamie. Often stereotyped as being the ‘baddie’ of the relationship, Oli manages to show Jamie’s inner demons and battles. Instead of blaming Jamie we start to understand and, perhaps, even feel sorry for him. ‘The Schmuel Song’ and ‘Nobody Needs to Know’ really showcase his ability to tell a story through song. As with Lynch, Higginson’s vocal control and strength shines through in this performance.

Given the small size of the venue and the fact that the majority of the stage is taken up with the grand piano Lee Newby’s set design is cleverly laid out. The use of a small revolve ensures that all of the audience are involved and, at times, helps with the storytelling. Lighting by Jamie Platt helps to further bring the characters and their dilemmas to life.

The Last Five Years is a beautiful story of two peoples relationship. It chronicles real love and what happens when life gets in the way. Through Jason Robert Brown’s superb score audiences are taken on a rollercoaster ride as we watch their relationship unfold. It can be hard to grasp due to the unconventional structure but this latest production works hard to ensure the audience are drawn in and emphasise with Cathy and Jamie. Rarely seen professionally, The Last Five Years is definitely one to catch during its limited run.

The Last Five Years is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until the 28th March 2020. For tickets and information click here.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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